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Nov 26, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; The Minnesota Golden Gophers team poses for a photo with the Paul Bunyan Axe following the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota had a tried-and-true formula that (mostly) worked this season: Rely mainly on a strong defense and the legs of running back Mohamed Ibrahim.

Against Wisconsin, the Gophers veered from their usual path and it paid off with a 23-16 win over their rivals and the keeping of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

The changeup was relying on redshirt freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis. Since taking over for injured Tanner Morgan, Kaliakmanis had been mostly muted. He had yet to complete 10 passes in a game – and had more than 15 attempts just once.

But Kaliakmanis made plenty of noise Saturday.

He completed 6 of 7 passes in the first quarter and by the end of the third had already set season highs for completions and yards.

However, Kaliakmanis saved his best for last – literally.

In a nip-and-tuck game, Minnesota trailed 16-13 heading into the final quarter with the Gophers tying it on a Matthew Trickett field goal with 7:58 remaining. On the next drive, Minnesota had a second-and-11 from the Wisconsin 45 when Kaliakmanis hit La’Meke Brockington on a slant, with the freshman wide receiver doing the rest outrunning the Badgers defense to the end zone for the lead – and eventually the game (after Wisconsin repeatedly shot itself in the foot with penalties after getting to the Gophers 5).

That’s not to say the defense and Ibrahim weren’t part of the plan, too.

Ibrahim got 27 carries but only 70 yards, breaking his 19-game streak of 100+ rushing yards. However, his long run of 14 was a big one, coming on third-and-12 on a drive which ended in three points for Minnesota.

The defense held a Braelon Allen-less Badgers team to 4.3 yards per rush and 191 yards passing. The Gophers D also came up with three consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter, helping keep Minnesota in the game, followed by an interception.

The story, though, was the play of Kaliakmanis. And, of course, the retaining of the Axe.

It might not have been the way one dreamt the story would play out, but the ending was just as sweet.

Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:

PLAYER OF THE GAME

It’s pretty obvious and we spent much of the story talking about him, but Kaliakmanis was the difference in Minnesota’s victory. He finished 19 of 29 for 319 yards with two touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, no turnovers.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME

Minnesota clearly saw a way to exploit Wisconsin’s defense with tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford. While the senior didn’t produce a touchdown he had the game of his life, setting career highs with seven catches for 95 yards (previous highs were five and 68). Fifty-one of his yardage came after the catch, an impressive figure, especially for a tight end. Five of his catches went for first downs. The Badgers had no answer for Spann-Ford, who had two receptions in each quarter.

THAT MOMENT

Ibrahim was mostly bottled up by Wisconsin. Of his 27 rushes, seven were for no gain or negative yards with another eight which went for just one yard. But when the Gophers needed him, Ibrahim came through. On the drive in which it got the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, Minnesota had a third-and-1 from its own 38-yard line. Head coach P.J. Fleck elected to go for it. The score was tied, if the Gophers failed, Wisconsin would be in prime position to take the lead. Fleck turned to Ibrahim, who took a handoff up the middle and fought his way for a two-yard gain. Three plays later, Kaliakmanis hit Brockington for the score.

THIS NUMBER

319. Kaliakmanis had Minnesota’s first 300-yard passing game since Nov. 16, 2019 when Tanner Morgan had 368 in a loss at Iowa. It was the first time it was done in a win since a week prior to that Iowa game, Morgan throwing for 339 vs. Penn State. The last time it happened in a win on the road was Sept. 28, 2019 at Purdue, Morgan once again topping that figure with 396. The Gophers hadn’t had a 300-yard game against Wisconsin since Adam Weber had 352 in 2007 and it marks just the second time a Minnesota QB did it against the Badgers since 2000.

THEY SAID IT

"Our quarterback played really special. And he did some things that – wow! That's like 500-level things." -- head coach P.J. Fleck

"We kind of had to do it a little different than we’ve played other games and I thought we were good enough to be able to do that." -- Fleck on the Gophers having more passing yards than rushing

"I knew that I couldn't play like I did (against) Iowa. I had to respond and play a lot better.” -- quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis

"It’s a special moment because it’s our last regular-season game, and for us to get sent off, chopping down goalposts is something you will remember." -- linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin

WHAT'S NEXT

Minnesota awaits its bowl fate, which will be announced Sunday, Dec. 4. The Gophers finished tied fourth overall in record with Purdue (which has one game remaining) and Illinois in the Big Ten.

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